By Michelle Wagner | Outer Banks Voice on April 1, 2020
A March 20 post on the Currituck Helping Hands Facebook page asking for 25 masks for local health care providers has quickly spread into a local movement that, in just over a week, has produced more than 500 homemade masks for local medical offices, nursing homes and even the Currituck County Sheriff’s Office.
From local quilters and sewers to community members who had never threaded a needle before and others who just want to donate supplies, Moyock resident Darla Althizer’s March 20 request served as a call to action at a time when shortages of personal protective equipment are at critical levels nationwide.
Althizer told the Voice the original request was to make masks for the health care facility where she works. And fellow Moyock resident and professional seamstress Rebecca Olah quickly responded on the Currituck Helping Hands page. But Althizer said she and Olah were “shocked” by what followed.
More requests quickly poured in and volunteers were jumping in to fill the orders. Within days, a local Facebook page was created called The Mask Group of NC & VA, with nearly 100 members responding to requests and churning out masks.
Most members of the mask group are from Currituck County, but Olah said some are from as far away as Virginia Beach and Elizabeth City. They’ve responded to needs in those areas and even further away. They are eager to have members from the Outer Banks, although Dare County visitor restrictions has made driving onto the island to fill requests and donate supplies more cumbersome.
With the help of Althizer, who is a nurse, Olah came up with the mask design and pattern for volunteers to follow. While not a medical-grade mask, the design includes two layers of fabric with a pocket for a filter.
“As a nurse, is this most ideal? ‘No,’” said Althizer. “But it is a lot safer than not having anything, especially when you’re taking care of people in the community.”
Olah expressed surprise about the response from the local community, noting that some people who have never sewn before are chipping in by borrowing sewing machines and learning to sew together masks.
“When we started this page, we had no clue we’d get this many [members and requests] so quickly,” she said. “The response has been quick. It’s just wonderful.”
While the group does not accept monetary donations, it does accept supplies such as fabric and elastic, which is currently in high demand and hard to find. When elastic isn’t available, volunteers are using bias tape as an alternative.
“A lot of these ladies are quilters,” Althizer said. “They have a lot of scraps of fabric and… it was a perfect storm to get up and running.”
Those who don’t sew have volunteered to deliver masks or transport materials. “Everybody’s doing a little something even if they can’t sew, which is awesome,” asserted Althizer. “The greatest need right now is [with] medical professionals, but anybody who is essential and in constant contact with the community, they’re welcome to make requests.”
Recently, the group reached out to the Currituck County Sherriff’s Department and donated 20 masks to officers.
Moyock resident Amy Elliot and her sister, Ann Ryan, are members of the group who filled the order for the sheriff’s office. Elliot told the Voice that seeing the recent news of health care professionals going without masks to protect themselves really motivated her to help.
“In our Currituck group, I saw that there was an announcement for sewers needed and I had the skills, so I offered to help, and it’s been amazing ever since,” she said. Elliot estimates she and Ryan have sewn about 100 masks and have cut out nearly 300 pieces of fabric to make more.
Elliot said she’s been most amazed by the community. “You know, the people are just so willing to help and ready and able to, and that’s what makes it so unique. It’s heartwarming,” she said. “And I’m also flabbergasted that when the word spreads, how many people are actually in need. I’m just glad I’m able to help.”